Liquid Diet: Rhode Island Pumpkin Whiskey
It’s that time of the year when seemingly everything is tinged with the flavor of spiced gourds: coffee, pastries, bagels, seltzer, soda, Oreos. The list is so onerously extensive, that last week, New York Magazine’s Grub Street declared that we’ve reached the “pumpkin spice” saturation point.
There’s only one glaring problem with the pumpkin-spiced fad: none of it is infused with actual pumpkins.
Enter distiller Mike Reppucci from Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in Rhode Island, who has spent the last two weeks cleaning, gutting, chopping, and roasting over 32,000 pounds of sugar pumpkins for his now award-winning pumpkin flavored whiskey.
“This pumpkin whiskey is tough,” Reppucci says. “32,000 pounds of pumpkin probably sounds like a lot, and let me tell you, when you see the amount of pumpkins required to produce this, it is a lot.”
After purchasing thousands of two-pound gourds from Carpenters Farm in Matunuck, the real work began. Reppucci picked up dozens of ice cream scoops from Wal-Mart, rented ovens, and worked around the clock roasting pumpkins, which he then juiced using his father’s “old school” wine press.
“We take a barrel-aged whiskey that’s at 124-proof and blend in real, roasted pumpkin juice,” Reppucci says. “Instead of using water to cut the proof to 80, we just use roasted pumpkin juice to bring it to bottle strength. Only after that is done do we infuse it with cinnamon, clove, allspice, orange peel, and whole vanilla beans.”
This is only the second vintage of Reppucci’s pumpkin flavored whiskey, but much has changed since Sons of Liberty released their initial 2,000-bottle run in 2013. Namely, Whiskey Magazine bestowed the honor of a World’s Best Award on Reppucci’s seasonal, small-batch project.
“We quadrupled our output this year and we’re still oversold,” Reppucci says. “We’ve already stopped taking orders and I’ve had to resort to allocating bottles, even to some of our best customers. It’s hard because, just like any other startup, we need money, but I didn’t want blend in white whiskey or use somebody else’s product. That’s what some other guys do and that’s fine. But we’ve never wanted to do that. What’s really making this pop is obviously that World’s Best award, so if we dilute it down this year, that’s just stupid. So we’re telling all of our accounts, this is all we’ve made, it’s the right age, and it’s freaking awesome.”
Besides the unexpected accolades, this year’s batch of pumpkin whiskey also has a darker base of CaraAroma malt, an extra year of barrel-aging, and almost double the amount of roasted pumpkin juice per bottle. The effect is a richer, more viscous whiskey that isn’t overpowered by notes of cinnamon and vanilla bean.
“We’ve been in business longer, so we had stocks of older whiskey that we were able to incorporate,” Reppucci says. “This year it has molasses-like notes and vanilla undertones. The roasted pumpkin adds mouthfeel and viscosity, and a vegetal note—which I swear is a good thing. It’s a distinct earthy note that’s unlike that saccharine sweet, fake chemical aroma you see in most pumpkin-flavored products. On the finish you definitely taste real pumpkin. But at its core, it’s definitely a whiskey. That’s what I’m most proud about.”
Sons of Liberty produced just under 10,000 bottles this year, all of which will stay within Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Reppucci suggests incorporating the whiskey into Manhattans, blending it with fresh-pressed apple cider, or his favorite, sipping it neat.
“When we’re developing a whiskey, we really struggle with how people will to use it,” Reppucci says. “So we brought the pumpkin and spice just to a level where it’s wonderful on its own, but also has enough backbone to stand up in a cocktail.”